Nuts About Coconut Oil? Know the Facts

By Jennifer Benedetto MS, RD, LD at LMC

Dietary recommendations regarding fat intake seem to change with the decade. A recent report continued to question the “healthiest” type of fat. A March 2014 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that decreased saturated fat intake did not result in a decreased risk of heart disease. Following this surprising report, the media began to report that there was no harm in unlimited consumption of saturated fats like coconut oil, animal fat, and butter. If decreased amounts of saturated fat didn’t help, what’s the harm in eating more?

shutterstock_219001327Highly saturated coconut oil, in particular, is now being promoted as a cure for various health conditions including Alzheimer’s, heart disease and obesity. But is coconut oil actually beneficial?

Coconut oil contains high levels of saturated fat, higher levels than butter. Ninety-two percent of the fat in coconut oil is saturated compared to 15% saturated fat in olive oil and 62% in butter. Unlike other oils, coconut oil can be solid or semisolid at room temperature due to the multitude of saturated chemical bonds. Conventional coconut oil is made from dried coconut that is pulverized, cooked and treated with chemicals. It is used in candies, coffee creamers and movie theater popcorn. Relatively new to the scene is virgin coconut oil which is extracted from fresh coconut meat. Virgin coconut oil is promoted as being healthier than conventional coconut oil. So should we be switching to coconut oil?

In regards to heart health, coconut oil like other saturated fats increases “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. High levels of LDL contribute to heart disease. Liquid vegetable oils (olive, canola) do not increase LDL. On the other hand, coconut oil, like liquid vegetable oils, also increases “good” (HDL) cholesterol. But is this elevation in HDL beneficial? That is unclear.

For now, most experts agree that coconut oil is a better choice than butter or trans-fats but there is no evidence to suggest coconut oil should be substituted for liquid vegetable oils. People who regularly eat extra-virgin olive oil in place of saturated fats have a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke—and lower cholesterol.

As far as the other coconut oil health claims go, there is no solid science to back them up. More research is needed to support coconut oil’s purported therapeutic benefits. So for now, stick with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines and choose unsaturated/beneficial fat sources and limit saturated fats to 7-10% of calories.

Bottom Line: saying something is not harmful does not mean it is good for you.

Holiday Eating

by Morgan Robbins, RD, LD at LMC

The holiday season is upon us and with that comes food, parties and more food. According to the National Institutes of Health, Americans gain around one pound during the holiday season. While one pound may not seem like much, it will add up over time. Don’t let the temptation to overindulge throw you off track during the holidays! Here are some tips to enjoy the season to the fullest while being mindful of your waistline.

cookies1. Plan Ahead- If you’re going to a holiday party and you know there will be treats, plan on eating an extra healthy breakfast and lunch that day. Focus on vegetables and whole grains to help you feel full and skip any treats during the day to account for the goodies you’ll have at night.

2. Exercise- If you’re exercising regularly then great! The holidays tend to be busy, but make it a part to keep up with your exercise routine. The endorphins released during exercise will help empower you to make better choices. Not exercising? Now is the perfect time to start!

veggie tray3. Fruit and Veggies First- When at a party or buffet, fill your plate with fruit and veggies before heading to the sweet stuff.

4. Mindless Eating- Don’t waste your calories on things you don’t truly enjoy, skip the snacks and focus on foods you love and don’t get the opportunity to have everyday.

5. Portions- All foods should fit into a healthy diet, just be mindful of the amount. Take small servings of not-so-healthy items and really check-in with yourself before going back for seconds. Give yourself time to assess if you really want to take a second serving and how you’ll feel after doing so.

beer6. All it takes is One Good Party- Leaving a party after eating well and still enjoying yourself is an empowering feeling, the next outing you have may be a bit easier to face knowing you can still eat healthy while at a holiday function.

7. Remember Alcohol- Yes, it has calories. The average calories in a beer are 153, 125 for a glass of wine and 168 for a margarita. That’s about 35 minutes of walking at a brisk pace to burn off just one drink!

Calling It Quits

Lexington Medical Center offers a free smoking cessation program for people who are looking to quit. It’s the topic of an editorial in the current edition of Lexington Woman magazine. Check it out below, or read it online on the magazine’s website.

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